Grow “thin” gut bacteria by eating more veggies

fiber and gut bacteria

We’ve all heard that a high-fiber diet is good for health because it keeps the digestive system moving. As it turns out, fiber also plays a more important role than we suspected. To understand why, we need to take a look at the gut microbiome — the community of microorganisms that live in the digestive tract.

Trillions of bacteria live in the human gut –- they account for ten times more cells than in the human body — and they play vital roles in our metabolism and health. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship; the bacteria happily feed on dietary fiber while they perform a variety of duties, including helping to make vitamins B and K, repressing growth of harmful microorganisms, and breaking down and fermenting dietary fiber. This breakdown of fiber results in a release of beneficial, anti-inflammatory short chain fatty acids that are a vital energy source for our bodies.

In recent research, the firmicutes and bacteroidetes classes of gut bacteria have received a lot of attention. Multiple studies show that obese people have a higher concentration of firmicutes than bacteroidetes, while in lean people the bacteroidetes predominate (to help keep it straight, think of fermicutes as “fat” and bacteroidetes as “bony”). Moreover, when the diet is high in fat, the obesity-friendly firmicutes increase (the exception being a ketogenic diet), yet a high-fiber diet helps bacteroidetes increase. In addition, researchers observed that overgrowth of firmicutes led to chronic systemic inflammation, which is known to contribute to common health problems such as metabolic syndrome, diabetes and heart disease. The message: Though they both have jobs to do, you want your bacteroidetes to be stronger than your firmicutes.

Feeding The Magnificent Microbes

One might wish to rid the body of the firmicutes microbes, yet this can actually open the pathway to overgrowth of candida albicans, or a yeast infection, which leads to problems of its own. Instead, supporting a healthy population of bacteroidetes is the key, and this is done by supplying ample prebiotics in the diet. Prebiotics are non-digestible carbohydrates –- in the form of dietary fiber –- that serve as food for the bacteria in your gut.

To keep a healthy balance of bacteria in the gut, an ample supply of fiber-rich plant foods is necessary. These foods should be part of a diet that includes plenty of good fats, vitamins and micronutrients, and avoids bad fats, excess refined sugars, processed/junk foods, and excess alcohol. Good forms of dietary fiber include: All vegetables but especially artichokes, peas, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts; fruits; and beans. Your mother was right, even if she didn’t know the whole truth: Veggies are good for you!

In addition to a diet strong in prebiotic fiber, you can help support a healthy gut environment by using supplemental probiotics: Live, “friendly” bacteria that bolster your gut’s population of healthy microbes. For probiotics to work, there must be a sufficient number of live bacteria present in the product (read your labels!) to survive the acidic environment of the stomach, and reach the large intestine. Your dietary fiber (prebiotics) acts as food to nourish these friendly probiotic bacteria, and ensures their growth and colonization. This combination of pre- and probiotic support can be vital for insuring a healthy gut.

Fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchee, kombucha, and yogurt contain live microbes, and can also help boost the probiotic content of your digestive tract. One caution; not all fermented foods have live cultures, and it’s the live ones you want. Again, read your labels!

Medications, hygiene, age, health status, and stress can also influence your gut microbe balance. Eating a fiber-strong, gut-friendly diet and supplementing with probiotics and fermented foods is one of your best strategies for supporting gut health.

Are gut bacteria making you depressed, anxious, and overweight?

3 03 gut bacteria obesity depression anxiety

We all carry trillions of bacteria in our guts, with as many as a thousand different strains. The composition of these strains, or our “bacterial fingerprint,” can influence whether we are prone to depression, anxiety, or obesity.

Some gut bacteria can make you fat

Studies have shown people (and mice) who are overweight have much higher levels of particular strains of bacteria than thinner subjects. When thin mice are inoculated with bacteria from heavy mice, they gain weight. This is because these fat-promoting bacteria have been shown to encourage overeating, promote weight gain, prevent the burning of fat, and make obese people better at deriving calories from food than thin people.

In a nutshell, your “bacterial fingerprint” plays a role in how much fat you carry and how easy or difficult it is for you to lose weight. Although diet and exercise are important, these findings help to explain why solely relying on the “eat less and exercise more” approach to weight loss is outdated.

Effect of gut bacteria on depression and anxiety

The composition of your gut bacteria can also play a role in whether you suffer from depression and anxiety. For instance, having plenty of beneficial bacteria, such as the Bifidobacteria strain, can promote production of serotonin, the “feel-good” chemical that prevents depression.

On the other hand, too much of “bad” bacterial strains can promote depression and anxiety. This is because the gut is linked to the brain by the vagus nerve, a large nerve that sends messages back and forth between the brain and digestive system. The effects of harmful bacteria in the gut travel to the brain, impacting brain function and mood.

In one study, subjects who took probiotics containing Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium reported less anxiety, depression, and anger and an improved ability to solve problems. In another study, mice given a Lactobacillus strain cruised through a maze that normally created high anxiety and showed lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol compared to their probiotic-deprived counterparts.

Cultivating good gut bacteria

Although researchers are still unsure exactly how to banish obesity, depression, and anxiety with probiotics, it’s clear you need to enhance your bacterial fingerprint for optimal health.

Birthing and baby feeding affect gut bacteria

The balance of good and bad bacteria starts at birth—vaginal deliveries and breastfeeding have been shown to improve a child’s chances of starting off with a healthy bacterial colony compared to C-sections and bottle feeding.

Chronic stress and gut bacteria

Chronic stress can throw your bacterial harmony out of balance, as can diets filled with sweets and sugars, processed foods, and fast foods. These foods damage and inflame the intestinal walls, promoting overgrowth of bad bacteria and yeasts.

Cultured food and fiber promotes good gut bacteria

You can promote bacterial harmony by focusing on an anti-inflammatory, whole foods diet that includes cultured and fermented foods, such as kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, and fermented vegetables. If you use store-bought cultured foods, make sure they are the real deal and not simply made with vinegar, or pasteurized, which would kill good bacteria..

A healthy colony of good gut bacteria also relies on plenty of soluble fiber in the diet. Eating plenty of produce will give you just what you need in that respect.

Probiotics for obesity, depression, and anxiety

Fortunately, we have powerful probiotics today that can help you cultivate your inner garden. Probiotics should be stable enough to survive the hot and acidic environment of the stomach and contain ample amounts of beneficial strains. Ask my office for advice on a probiotic that’s right for you.